So we saw Spanglish last night, and I was pretty disappointed. I had moderate assumptions about what I was in for -- it's a James L. Brooks movie, after all, so I wasn't expecting anything arty or super-deep. But I liked Broadcast News, back in the day. And for the first half, or maybe even two-thirds, Spanglish was meeting my very moderate expectations. And then it all fell apart.
On the good side: several of the actors do a terrific job -- Tea Leoni & Adam Sandler, in particular (though I'm still trying to adjust to Sandler as a "serious" actor playing adult characters). Paz Vega isn't given very much to do, but she really shines in places. There are some great scenes sprinkled throughout the film. Also on the good side is the fact (I think unintentional) that a lot of plot lines/character arcs are left undecided at the film's end. There's an interesting tension in trying to show a budding connection/potential romance between people who cannot get together if the film is to maintain its relentlessly heavy-handed "family values" orientation.
On the truly heinous side: the idealization of the exotic Mexican domestic worker who will heal the fractured neurotic white family. Complete with a nauseatingly fake "Mexico" scene and a glossy airbrushing of border crossing.
Pretty awful: the villification of the competitive, ambitious professional woman (Leoni) who is falling apart after losing her job. She's continually made out to be monstrous, so as to increase our sympathies for her husband (Sandler), who's so super-nice as to be basically unreal.
Mediocre: This Film Needs an Editor. Still. As is, it lasted more than 2 hours and was so disjointed that some characters barely seemed to be in the film. Either there's a 3 1/2 hour director's cut somewhere, or maybe this was two separate movies that got mixed together.
Embarrassingly Bad: the frame narrative, which purports to be the housekeeper's daughter's Princeton application essay. Worst are the closing lines of the film, which want to have it both ways: to celebrate assimilation and yet also maintain the ideal of Exotic Hispanic Motherhood.
Basically, it's a film that lets upper-class white people feel good about hiring underpaid Hispanic workers to manage their children and their lawns because it shows us how their lives are full of simple beauty and deep truths about the necessity for repression. When they leave Mexico, Vega allows her young daughter "only one tear," in a gesture that is repeated at the film's end, as she and her daughter are leaving the Tomei/Sandler family's awkward, emotional, complicated embrace. Thus the film simultaneously rejects the idea of dialogue or communication (what Leoni attempts to achieve with Sandler many times, although not always in the best ways) and sentimentally idealizes silence: Vega's inability to speak English, Sandler's inability to hear his wife's words, and the cessation of their relationship before it ever really starts.
I expected the Hollywood idealizing of Vega's character. But I didn't expect it to be so badly handled as what I saw on screen. Don't waste your time on this one.